Crémant de Limoux

Founded toward the end of the 8th century, the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire still holds a starring role in the wine-making annals and lore of Southwest France. Along with an official document dating to 1531 wherein the abbey’s monks first describe the method of making mousseux (sparkling wine), there’s another intriguing and contentious tale that involves yet another wine-making monk, Dom Pérignon; while en route to the pilgrimage path of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Purportedly, it was during a brief stopover at this abbey in Languedoc when he was introduced to the then-curious and little-known process. In having carefully detailed the original Limoux recipe, he would continue experimenting with it after returning to his home abbey in Reims. Propelled by this work, Dom Pérignon became an iconic, globally known figurehead, and his northern French city would eventually evolve into the unofficial capital of Champagne! Despite all the colourful conjecture, this story is likely a tall tale since any bottle-fermentation in the early 17th century, which produces bubbly gasses, was strictly avoided by vintners as it caused the imperfect glass bottles of the day to explode. A serious problem for longer-term storage of finished wine, the unwanted second fermentation was considered to be sloppy wine-making and derisively referred to as Vin du Diable (‘devil’s wine’). In time, the refinement of higher quality glass and employing the double closure of an enlarged cork secured with wire wraps made the standard vessels stable enough to contain the frothy mousseux. In 1975, ‘Champagne’ became a proprietary and crowning term for their regional style, with all other variants in France and Luxembourg becoming officially referred to as Crémant. i.e. Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Dis, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Savoie, Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace, and from the region nearby to the Abbey – Crémant de Limoux.


As for this week’s featured region, the vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrénées are planted at relatively higher altitudes, and where the windy intersect of the Vent Cer blowing in from the Atlantic, and the Vent Marin off the Mediterranean make for more balanced conditions than is typical in most of the surrounding Languedoc-Roussillon zones. Coupled with stony, nutrient-poor, clay soils, these factors combine as an ideal environment for cultivating ‘Blanquette’ (Mauzac Blanc); a white wine grape that’s been grown in the Limoux AOP for several centuries now. Somewhat chameleon, this variety develops as either green or pinkish-skinned clusters depending on the influence of each vineyard terroir. The ‘Blanquette’ nickname refers to a benign white powder that coats its leaves in spring, and provides the namesake for the local Crémant styles; the sweet, Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale, and the dry, Blanquette de Limoux Brut.

In the Blanquette de Limoux appellation, wines are required to contain at least 90% Mauzac topped off with a small splash of either Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay grapes, For this DéClassé recommended, Cuvée Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, the vintners of Domaine Rosier are drawing fruit from hillside vineyards that ring around the Romanesque village of Villelongue-d’Aude. Equally charming and inviting, this well-dressed bottling is offered at such an affordable price-point there’s no need to hold off for a special event. So, make many upcoming days memorable by picking up several bottles of this premium, extra dry, vintage sparkler — to add a delightful dose of spritz into your wintertime, white wine mix!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #467217 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
By: Domaine Rosier
Release Date: January 7, 2017

Tasting Note
With a lemon-tinged hue, this very crisp Crémant has bright citrus fruit and green apple notes typical of the Mauzac grape, finishing with subtle hints of the toasty flavour notes that result from its traditional, secondary fermentation method of production. Avoid overchilling to preserve the wine’s more delicate layers and pair with triple crème Brie, warm canapés with Gruyère, savoury pastries, smoked salmon, and freshwater fish dishes with cream sauces.

Côtes du Rhône GSM

Not only a natural kingdom populated with oak, aromatic Mediterranean shrub, and stands of Aleppo pines, the small and rumpled mountain chain called the Dentelles de Montmirail is also home to a group of historically and culturally preserved hamlets like Séguret, Gigondas, and this week’s featured wine source, Sablet. Anchored as a former bastion on a prominence nearby to the lacework of limestone outcrops (‘dentelles’), the ringed cluster of terra cotta-roofed stone houses, shops, and cobbled alleys personify the town’s medieval history, but also hint at its roots in antiquity. For 500 years as of 1274, the surrounding land and connecting waterways were part of a Papal realm known as the Comtat Venaissin. Ceded to the Catholic Church by various, minor French kings, the enclave was home for a succession of nine displaced Popes who had fled Rome due to political revolt. It remained in their control up until 1791 when all the holdings were reintegrated into France as a part of the new order that followed the French revolution. Framed by the Rhône River to the west and Provence to the south, this desirable territory also includes the prestigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape (‘the Papal Castle’). Globally renowned, this AOC (appellation d’origin controlee) still anchors the region’s modern-day reputation, though it was the visionary Romans who adapted the early grape varieties; who introduced the technology of terraced vineyards — and then went on to launch the area’s export trade via barges; down the Rhône, its tributaries, and out to sea onto their thirsty empire!


Vintners in the Southern Rhône have been cultivating Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre vines for 14 centuries. Being well-suited to a regional climate in which the daytime heat of summer is tempered by the cooling Mistral breezes, and where a very long growing season promotes full maturity of the fruit, these three plump and prolific varieties form the backbone for the Rhône’s signature blends of red wine known as GSM. In the region’s more recent history, Cave Le Gravillas is among a group of small producers who, with a steadfast commitment to refining terroir-specific wines in the peripheral shadow of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, have also developed an international profile by offering their bottlings at a fraction of their famous neighbour’s prices. Sablet is one of 18 villages that’s permitted to add its name to the AOC Côtes du Rhône – Villages. Generally, ‘Villages’ references a more rigorous regime of planting density, harvest yields, blend proportions, and minimum alcohol levels. Whether these factors translate into a consistently better grade of wine than the generic standard is debatable, and variable from year-to-year. What’s less uncertain is that the vineyards which surround each village, coupled with their local wine finishing traditions, does yield a distinctive flavour profile for their unique recipes of GSM.

For my baseline tastes, as an admitted fan of medium to full-bodied, somewhat earthy, berry-forward red wine with polished tannins and less oak influence, this 2nd release of Villages Sablet 2014 is a balanced bottling that’s equally satisfying as apéritif or with dinner fare. This is a perennial LCBO Vintages favourite, so the available stock will evaporate from shelves quickly. As for sidestepping the impending mid-Winter blues, I suggest that you try to buy and stow away half a case!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #78790 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Rhône, France
By: Le Gravillas
Release Date: January 7, 2017

Tasting Note
As Grenache Noir makes up most of the blend (70%), its rich blackberry aromas and flavours dominate — with the Syrah (25%) and Mourvèdre (5%) adding subtle spice and pepper notes. Try this alongside wine-braised lamb and pearl onions, stir-fried pork and cabbage, beef Kefta brochettes, a savoury stew or spicy squash tagine.